Top things to do for families in the Whitsundays

There is no shortage of family fun in the Whitsundays – and plenty of it is free.

  • Tiana Templeman

Staying at some resorts involves little more than relaxing on a sun lounge and contemplating whether to take another dip before lunch. Not in the Whitsundays. If your family would rather get out and about than lie by the pool, this region is perfect. There are myriad ways to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands. Take a scenic helicopter flight over lush green landscapes and sandy atolls, join a snorkeling or sailing tour, go windsurfing or ocean rafting, or take a day trip to famous Whitehaven Beach. The Whitsundays offer all this, plus a few surprises such as camping in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Even better, there's plenty of family fun to be found for free.

Free fun on Hamilton Island

You’re unlikely to hear those dreaded words “I’m bored!” on Hamilton Island. All non-motorised water sports are free for in-house guests. Grab the kids and some kayaks and go for a paddle, hit the beach, try windsurfing or explore the island with a free self-guided audio tour. Add three family-friendly pools to hop between and it is tempting to spend all day in your swimmers. Accommodation ranges from family-friendly holiday homes to the recently refurbished Palm Bungalows, or a room at the high-rise Reef View Hotel. If your kids are under 12, they eat for free from the children’s menu when you stay at either hotel. Dine at Sails for upmarket mod-Oz mains with spectacular views (and a pool for the kids), order gourmet pizzas at Manta Ray, or enjoy Asian hawker food at Coca Chu.

Two cockatoos enjoying the view from the look out on Hamilton Island

Out And About In The Whitsundays

Venture beyond the resorts and discover amazing aquatic adventures, breathtaking views and more turtles than you can poke an underwater camera at.

Play a round with the turtles

Golfers can play a round at the island’s golf club, which is rumoured to be one of the most challenging courses in the world — not least because it is impossible to keep your eye on the ball when you are surrounded by such jaw-dropping views. With holes strung along the spectacular ridges and steep valleys of Dent Island, this course offers a variety of obstacles such as swirling winds, impenetrable bushland and a 14th hole dubbed the ‘Valley of Death’.

Camp on the Great Barrier Reef

Sleep in swags under the stars and explore Australia’s most famous marine playground with just nine other travellers at Reefsleep, an overnight camping experience on the Reefworld pontoon. As the day trippers depart, pull on your stinger suits, masks and fins and slip into the ocean alongside Hardy Reef. Coral gardens sparkle with jewel-bright tropical fish and clown fish disappear into anemones tucked into the coral drop-off. Chip, the pontoon’s resident turtle, might also drop in for a visit. Enjoy a barbecue dinner and a peaceful night’s sleep until 11am, when the next load of day trippers arrive. Reefsleep has been refurbished and improved since Cyclone Debbie, which hit Queensland in March.

Sailing and snorkelling adventure

Discover the very best of the Whitsundays in one day – the world-famous Whitehaven Beach and the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier Reef – on a tour that ventures beyond the pristine sands of Whitehaven to a secret reef just off Chalkies Beach. Swim at Whitehaven Beach, then climb aboard the Cruise Whitsundays’ dive boat with a handful of other travellers for the transfer to nearby Chalkies reef. Swim with colourful fish and the reef’s resident turtles, enjoy a barbecue on Whitehaven and maybe a game of beach cricket before the return journey.

Heart reef in the Whitsunday Islands

Helicopter trip to Heart Reef

See a different side of the Great Barrier Reef with a one-hour scenic flight that takes in Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, Hook Passage and the many Whitsunday Islands. Rainforest tumbles down rugged hillsides, idyllic rocky bays beckon and crystalline blue waters beg to be explored. Heart Reef, a coral bommie shaped like a heart, is a highlight so have your camera ready. It’s a triple thriller: a helicopter flight, stunning scenery and Instaworthy pics that will make your friends greener than those lush tropical islands with envy.

Gorgeous getaway

It used to be one of the Whitsundays’ most upmarket accommodation options, but Palm Bay Resort on Long Island was hit hard by the GFC and closed for a few years. It has reopened as the region’s only fully self-catering resort, suited to those who love the Champagne life but travel on a beer budget. Stock up on your favourite food, drinks and other treats before you leave Airlie Beach, or arrange for supplies to be delivered by Whitsunday Provisioning. Each of the 23 villas offers a five-star stay for a three-star price, with views of the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Passage. The resort’s flash restaurant no longer operates, but you can still enjoy it. Cook up a storm in the renovated guest kitchen and eat your meal at one of the restaurant’s linen-napped tables set up daily for guests to enjoy. Entertainment options include swimming, snorkelling, whale spotting and hiking through the island’s national park. However, it is hard to beat lying in a hammock and enjoying the view.